For 4 days, we had sailed under
a fair sky, with a kind breeze and a following sea. We talked, we laughed, we
held hands, reveling in the warm glow of each other’s love. I helmed the craft,
you leaning against my side, my arm around your waist. We made good time; at a
steady six knots, save when sleep overcame us. Then we would heave-to, our
sails in opposition, foresail pulled to the port rail, main boom to starboard,
and the sea anchor deployed from the bow to slow our drift.
Then we would wrap ourselves in
sleeping bags and sleep in each other’s arms on the cockpit cushions. These
were brief naps, two hours at a time, waking to check our position and the wind
and current direction. I thought we were perfectly happy.
The fifth day dawned with a
chill in the air and a fresh breeze blowing in off the port bow. Two miles
away, directly across our line of passage, marched a phalanx of storm clouds,
darker than the uniformly gray sky. They seemed to stretch from north to south,
from horizon to horizon.
surrendered the wheel to you, clipped my
harness onto the line on deck, then went forward to the mast and shortened sail
as much as possible before the line of squalls hit,
returned to the cockpit and took the helm. I
pushed the starter for the small diesel engine and pulled it back into neutral.
Just in case.
The storm struck with little or
no preamble, sheets of rain - gusts up to 50 knots, and a troubled sea. Beneath
the storm clouds, it was dark and dismal; visibility was dropping fast. I made
sure that your harness was clipped on, said Hang onto something. This looks
like it’s going to be rough.
You squeezed my hand. We’ve
seen worse, I believe.
I agree. But we don’t know how
long it will last.
It blew for two days, and then
it started on the third. I had sent you below into the cocoon of the cabin.
Except for those times when I passed out at the wheel for twenty minutes at a
time, I had not slept. You had tried to keep me going; plenty of coffee and
energy bars, sandwiches, and copious mental support.
By the morning of the third day,
I was asleep on my feet. You brought me coffee, clipped in, and sat with me
while I sipped and ate two energy bars. Then I dropped the coffee mug into the
bottom of the cockpit and collapsed on your shoulder.
You shook me. Kev, you need
to sleep. I can do this, at least for an hour.
I shook my head clear, nodded in
agreement. I added an extra strap and clipped you in on the other side of the
cockpit, sure that it would hold, then I hugged you and kissed your cheek.
Thanks, honey. One hour only,
okay. Stamp on the cockpit floor when you’re ready. I made my stumbling way down
the companionway, sealed the door, and folded onto the bunk, already asleep.
I awoke, wiped my eyes, and
looked at my watch. Then leaped out of bed – I had been asleep for three hours!
The boat had an unusual feel to it; gone was the steady movement into the wind,
and she was yawing wildly in the waves. My heart was in my throat as I
hurriedly broke the watertight seal on the companionway and rushed up the
ladder into the cockpit.
It was empty.
I looked around the boat in a
panic, hoping to see you clipped onto the deck line at the mast, but the deck
was devoid of life. I looked at the two rings where I had attached your
harness. Nothing. I shouted frantically, Jenny? Jen. Can you hear me?
Of course, I was greeted only by
the manic howl of the wind. I spun the boat’s bow into the wind and sea and put
the strap on the wheel.
I went below to the radio, turned
up the volume. Hobart, harbourmaster, Hobart harbourmaster, SY Silver Heels.
Do you copy? Over. Silence was the only reply.
I click twice on the microphone
button and try again. Hobart, harbourmaster, Hobart harbourmaster, SY Silver
Heels. Do you copy? Over.
Still silence. Not even the
crackle of static.
I spend the next fifteen minutes
futilely reaching out for help. Even calling all vessels and give them our
I clipped my harness onto the
safety line and did a circuit of the deck, peering apprehensively overboard to
see if you were dangling off the side of the boat. I returned to the cockpit
and sat, my head in my hands, for untold time. Lost. Alone in the world.
We had left Hobart headed 1,000
miles east to Invercargill on the south coast of the South Island, a trip we
had made several times before. Experience had told us that the journey could be
completed in seven, maybe eight days. In perfect conditions, perhaps six. It
was not a particularly difficult trip.
Although the wind was gusting to
fifty or sixty knots, the seas were not so big, although, on occasion, one
would sweep over the bow and fill the cockpit with cold water. The self-bailers
dealt with that quickly enough.
According to our last GPS
reading this morning, we should be just past our halfway point – the storm had
slowed us somewhat - and there was at
least fifteen thousand feet of water under our keel.
It’s Saturday afternoon.
I sat there, my hand on the
wheel, and started to cry; great, racking sobs that felt like they would expose
my heart and lungs at any moment. I don’t know how long I sat like that.
I am adrift on a sea of tears:
no compass, no sextant, not even a star to steer by. I am buffeted on all sides
by waves of loneliness. They drive me towards the reef of despair, there, sure
to run aground and to be pounded to splinters by the waves.
Then I heard it, the distinctive
sound of breakers on a reef. But that was impossible. We were hundreds of miles
from the closest reef. I looked north and, in the distance, saw a line of
white. Breakers crashing onto a string of huge boulders that the boat was being
inexorably driven towards.
I listened harder. Embedded in
the wild howl of the gale, I heard your voice. Kevin. Kev-. Can you hear me?
Common sense dictated to me that
it was only imagination. There was no voice; there could be no reef. Still, the
boat lurched on. I unclipped my harness, carefully made my way into the cabin.
I pulled out an oilskin cloth and the waterproof pouch for my journal. I
climbed back to the cockpit, clipped in, and sat. I decided to seal this
journal into the oilskin, then the pouch, and leave it on the cockpit floor.
Over the scream of the wind, I
still hear your voice, Kev. Kevin. I’m here. Please don’t leave me.
I write one last sentence, then
I will seal the pouch and drop it on the cockpit floor. I unclip my harness and
sit in the cockpit, pointing the bow at the center of the line of breakers and
coming, my love. I’m
Chris Alleyne is a native-born Barbadian who has been involved
in creative activities all his life. He is a photographer, a painter, a
woodworker and has also written unpublished poetry and published 2 coffee-table
books of Barbados landscapes. He has been divorced for over 15 years and is the
father of two young men and grandfather of two. A collection of some of his
short stories—Into the Mist--is available on Amazon. He is currently working on
a collection of novels, still looking for that elusive book deal!